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  • Thursday, May 4 2017
  • Daniel Jiménez
  • Analysis
  • Human rights
  • 0



Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, European Union (EU) assistance has nominally targeted more resources to supporting democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This reflects the failure of previous approaches, as the two documents reviewing the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) of 2011 acknowledge,1 as well as a stronger focus on democracy and human rights through the Strategic Guidelines on Human Rights of 2012 and the two accompanying Action Plans.2 Resources earmarked for supporting civil society have been increased, the budget for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) has been beefed up, and the strengthened EU Delegations have become more empowered to reach out to groups at the local grass- roots level behind democracy activities. The European Endowment for Democracy (EED) was created with the mandate to support individuals and organizations in neighbouring countries that work for democracy. The EU has better equipped itself institutionally, financially and conceptually, by strengthening its bottom-up grass-roots approach to democracy support. Whether this translates into a more effective strategy for democracy support, however, is questionable.

The immediate aftermath of the Arab uprisings saw an international rush to make greater commitments to support democratic transformation and civil society, reflected in the ways in which EU external assistance was planned. Several factors made this shift hard to apply. Analysing the figures highlights discrepancies between commitments and disbursements, due to various problems in absorption capacity and/or the difficulties of governance in transition countries, as well as dramatic political changes and descents into violence, such as in Egypt. On the EU side, the ‘more for more’ mantra and the consequent creation of specific funds to rewards good governance reform (such as the Support for Partnership, Reforms and Inclusive Growth [SPRING] in 2011-2013, Umbrella funds thereafter), translated in an opaque application. Morocco and Tunisia both benefited from such funds, despite quite different patterns of transformation, while they were de facto postponed for Egypt, yet without making explicit the link to the deteriorating situation there. Eventually, the EUR 90 million was used to support a World Food Programme to feed children in schools – far from the SPRING governance objectives.

Once the Sisi presidency in Egypt managed to impose a form of stability (through repression) in the country, bilateral assistance resumed on a similar level to the pre-2011 period, without the additional funding for good governance. Finally, competing priorities became evident as instability increased in the MENA region, due to the escalating Syrian war. The containment of population movements from Syria, its neighbouring countries where many refugees had fled, Afghanistan, Iraq and other unstable Sub-Saharan countries managed to mobilize far greater funds than anything so far targeting political reform and conflict prevention.